A park is a zoo for trees

Part seven in my interview series. In this series of blog posts I’m researching the impact of nature. I realized that I have my perception of nature and I know what it means to me, but I’m really curious how others think about it. I’m hoping to collect many stories. Maybe in the end I have enough material to make some interesting conclusions. But there’s only one way to really find out.

This time I’d like to introduce you to Tracy.

I Tracy was my host at the third workaway I did. She’s from the US and moved to Italy 16 years ago.She bought a house with a big garden in a horrible state and has been improving it in the time she’s been there. In the three weeks I spent with her, I got to know her quite well, considering the short amount of time. She’s lived, and is still living, a very interesting life. I’m very impressed with the things she’s been able to achieve. Her biggest achievement, in my opinion, is the work she has done as an activist. Her main focus has always been women’s rights but at the same time she is one of those people who fight for equality for everyone. That it’s not a race for whose rights are more important.

The interview with Tracy was very interesting and I heard views that I’ve never heard before. During the interview she did her best to keep her answers short, but that didn’t always work out. So even though the answers aren’t always exactly referring to the question I’ve kept it in anyways because I think she offers great food for thought. I hope you’ll enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed the interview.

Can you define nature?

I don’t really use the word nature. Unless I’m referring to what other people think is nature. Because in my work, the thing we basically call nature depends on the culture naming it. So I never use natural because natural is generally a way to pretend that things we want to be true, to have any scientific evidence. But when I think of just my own relationship. I would probably say to the world, to green, to wild, I use different words that way more than the term nature. When I’m really talking about nature I have the idea of energetic bio system forces that are bigger than us.

How does nature affect your life?

So, again, like my idea of nature is. These big, energetic systems that have their own logic, that have their own right to be, that have their own reason for doing what they’re doing. Sometimes I’m informed enough to follow it, lots of times I have no clue. But I mean, for one, I like rain, and every time it rains, I’m like the happiest person in the world and everyone else is depressed, ever since I was a kid. It was like, my goddess, this is just like my brain, calm down. Everything about rain made me a happy person. I’m also happy whenever I’m around anything that’s big, so big mountains, big water, I’m not really big on lakes. I like oceans and seas and I like the sensation of nature dwarfing humans and putting us in perspective, so instead of feeling so high and mighty and so accomplished, we’re up against something that just has its own way of being. And if we’re going to get along, then we need to respect that. And whether we understand it or not, it’s on us. The onus is on us to accommodate it, doing what it needs to do.

So you’re feeling humbled by nature.

Totally! Humbled, respect, humility. Humility in the sense like I actively go try to learn a new sport every so often. So I go back to not knowing how and falling down and gravity and bumps and bruises. I really want that humility to be a lesson that I revisit frequently. And nature, I think, does that. Even if you look at people who live on islands and people who live in the mountains. They can be grumpy sods, but they have a brilliant acuity and perspective and an intensity. Part of the reason that love is, you know, they have no patience for the landlubbers, the people of the in between those who don’t understand that, you know, the ocean will hand you your ass, a mountain will like, you know, you go off the edge of the mountain. That’s it, you know? So I actually think island people and mountain people are the cool people. And the rest are sort of morons.

What does nature mean to you?

Life. Energy. Forces. Stuff we don’t understand and I mean, we don’t. We don’t know where it came from. We can speculate, but it’s all stuff that’s bigger than us. I can’t say it brings peace because it can also bring, like, unbelievable trauma and hardship and horror, but there’s something quintessentially authentic and true. There’s something realer than real about nature that isn’t true of all of our other strange cultural events. Also because it remains largely unknown, even though we can dissect that, we can interpret what we see and turn that into our knowledge. But that doesn’t actually mean that the thing itself thinks of itself that way. So I think, yeah, it’s back to the humbling thing and back to a constant learning source. It’s back to a life is bigger than any one of us that demands thoughtfulness.

What’s your favourite piece of nature?

I think of its vastness, its infinitude. I also think it’s teaching. When I think of nature, one I didn’t mention is the word observe to me. Nature is the things that you can have more of if you can steady yourself, if you can quiet yourself, if you know how to pay attention. A lot of the things I’ve learned to do here, I didn’t have anyone teach me. Maybe eventually somebody came here and I had a conversation and then I found out, oh, yeah, don’t cut the grapes until after the full moon. I’m always paying attention and it’s observable, it is possible to learn. You don’t actually need a YouTube video, however you need much longer spans of time. Because if you trim now, you won’t know if the thing died for six weeks. You can learn so much. It’s like a teacher, but there’s something even more extraordinary about it, like the way it gives so much of itself to observation and but that just requires your attention and requires respect, it requires a kind of enthusiasm. Where you’re really willing to not stop because it got dark, because you haven’t finished the project. Or don’t go in because it’s raining and you keep working because you have to finish. It creates all these ways that you have to learn how to compromise and make different kinds of priorities. What’s more important, being dry or finishing this, taking advantage of the season, being ready for the winter. There’s all kinds of ways that it’s a kind of a boot camp. It’s a way of being trained. And, you know, I’m like the least trainable person in the world. But it’s been really satisfying to find out how well I can self train.When I want to win, when I’m in an environment where I respect what the training’s about. Schools tried to train me to wake up on time and be in class on time and do this on time. It was not wildly successful. But here, when I have stuff to do, I can muster it up and block it all out.

What activity do you prefer to do in nature?

That’s a hard one. I mean, what I really want to be doing if I had the means and the money and the time I would be skiing in winter and in Greece, in the boats, in the sea all summer. With some bits of sailing. I could really pull off a perfect existence, I would get the bionic horses every so often. I’m not much of a walker, hiker. It’s more like. Like deep, full immersion, snow,  immersion, water immersion, sort of my way of really liking it.

How do you feel about the gardening that you’re doing?

Yeah, because that’s pretty full immersion. That’s probably why I’ll dig up 15 centimeters of like two meters by 10 meters, but I won’t mow the lawn. I’m hand weeding the entire topsoil and I can spend hours doing it. I have spent hundreds of hours on it.

The thing that has always been important to me about sports, has been what I learned. So when I would ski a lot, if I didn’t crash and fall down, I would get really frustrated because I hadn’t learned anything. I knew that the time when I was doing a school run and I got on my terms and did it, it basically meant I was within my comfort zone and my abilities. So when I would catch black eyes and go flying or whatever, I was like; I have learned something. It also could be that my brain needs food to chew on all the time. So swimming pools are boring.

So things that everyone else likes, slow and easy or not my thing. I like things that are much more challenging or observable. I’d probably feel excited about climbing, but since climbing has such a high learning curve at the front end. If I had started climbing like 22 years ago and been able to stick with it then or have things in order right now. But to start now? I think it would just be too much. Because I have so much that I have to do. It wouldn’t be enjoyable to me right now because I would just be up against all the things I don’t know.

So I like full immersion and I like observation, but also like freedom. Like mowing the lawn is not free. Digging by hand to me, even though that’s 10 times more hard work. It feels more free. So I think nature for me is a place where you play. Yes, by the rules, I don’t even like that phrase for this particular application, but you have to cut a deal. And the deal is that I’m going to pay attention and you’re going to kick my ass or teach me something. But I have to pay attention, I have to. It’s always an homage to human nature, and that would be the Buddha relationship. We pay homage to nature and realize that it can’t be about control and dominion or self-importance or ego, it always has to be that if we’re lucky, we just have like a great run, a great swim. But there’s always that possibility of things not going well and you have to be prepared for that. But those are also the exciting learning opportunities.

Do you have anything else to add?

Yes, I’d like to elaborate a bit more. Rain was the place where my inside and my outside got in alignment, where I felt like the world was kind to me, I actually used to feel like it rained for me. Everyone else was miserable. So then it must have been just to make me happy. And I mean, I would say thank you. I still go out and talk to the moon all the time. So I do have a pretty strong relationship in a weird way to this thing called the universe.

But the strongest thing was my menstrual cycle because it always felt like that was the thing that I had no control over. And instead of fighting it, which is what I saw in most of my girlfriends, I totally felt like it was mine to succumb to it. Not in a passive way, but to honor it and in this way this was bigger than me. This was where I was connected to systems that were bigger than me. I found that really soothing. Like it provided perspective, it was like it was relief from the craziness of school and demands and work. To do this like this was just like a major like fuck you to the world that humans have created.

Actually, long before it was popular to talk about menstrual cycles, somebody did a project, one of the first Internet projects. And I wrote in to share my ideas. For me it’s like having this volcano and it just erupts and there’s nothing to do except give homage to the volcano. I mean, I was lucky because I was not having cramping or pain, so to me it was like a super strength. To me, it was like, I don’t need Superwoman, that was my super strength moment every time my period came by. I did a bunch of art, actually, with menstrual blood long before people were up for that. Yet now it’s become a thing.

And this was your connection to nature?

Yeah, that was my idea of nature. When I was in New York for a year crashing on peoples  sofas, people were like, go for a walk in Central Park. I was like, for me, Central Park feels like going to a zoo for trees. I never go to an animal zoo because it’s awful to watch all the animals caged. To me, when I see parks in the city, I actually feel pain and anxiety like that, these poor trees are trying to grow in these silly little squares surrounded by cement and asphalt. The grass can’t grow, it’s all beaten because too many people walked on it. The trees look a little sad. So, that was never my idea of nature.

I think usually people that talk about nature, even if they don’t realize, they’re using nature. Nature they use is just another use thing. So the minute you use it, you’re bringing these things back into culture. So it’s used to relax. It’s used to do this. It’s used to do that. Well, I can tell you right here. One of the problems with that, is the minute someone doesn’t know that things have use value, it no longer has any value. For me, the whole point of not just relating to the world in terms of use is to disconnect the idea of value from my use of things. Autonomous things have autonomous values, independent of my use of them. In many instances, my use of them shouldn’t even come into play. That’s kind of where we’ve become the runaway train as a species, where everything is just to be consumed and used. When it’s not useful, then it doesn’t matter. Well, it has to. It does, and it should be garnering respect for its autonomy. Not just because we’ve run out of ways to use it.

2 Replies to “A park is a zoo for trees”

  1. The interview format is good, would’ve made an interesting podcast. The Italian countryside seems to call out to Americans like George Clooney, the American star, who has a place on Lake Como. The history and beauty of the Italian peninsula will always be twin draws for the discerning traveler.

    — Catxman



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